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Defined-benefit Pension Schemes

Volume 531: debated on Monday 18 July 2011

2. What steps he is taking to address incentivised transfers out of defined-benefit pension schemes. (66530)

We recognise that employers need some flexibility to manage their scheme liabilities and that well-managed transfer exercises can be a useful tool, but we are concerned about scheme members being offered cash inducements to encourage them to take a transfer that might not be in their best interests. We have discussed the issue with a number of industry groups and we are actively looking to see what action needs to be taken to combat any bad practice.

As the Minister knows, I support him on the principle that enhanced transfers do not necessarily advantage many members of pension schemes. What does he think about the other side of the equation, however? In my constituency of Gloucester, we have at least a dozen very successful family-owned manufacturing firms whose ability to grow is impeded by the residual liabilities of their closed DB schemes. How does the Minister think we can balance our responsibilities to members of the scheme with the desire to help such companies grow?

I enjoyed my visit to my hon. Friend’s constituency, when we discussed pension issues with local employers. The important consideration is fairness, as he says. We have no problem with people transferring out of such schemes in a fair exchange, but because these are complex and difficult financial transactions we must ensure that people have the proper advice and information on which to make such choices.

The reality is that most occupational schemes are disappearing, private pension schemes are often not good value and are subject to stock-market vagaries, and millions of people will not be in any kind of pension scheme in the future. Is not the real long-term solution a compulsory state earnings-related pension scheme for everyone?

We believe that both the state and the private sector have an important part to play. We have published Green Paper proposals for state pension reform that would provide a firmer foundation, perhaps of the sort that the hon. Gentleman has in mind. We also believe that many people could be in decent-quality workplace provision with an employer contribution and that is why we will begin auto-enrolment as planned next year.